Football, Walter Iooss Jr & Dan Jenkins

Walter Iooss Jr & Dan Jenkins
Abrams, 1986
Out of print – available secondhand

Walter Iooss Junior is a sports photographer who spent much of his career with Sports Illustrated. He took one of the most famous photos in football history – the shot of Dwight Clark leaping above Everson Walls to bring in “The Catch” and score the touchdown that would give the San Francisco 49ers victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship Game.

This book collects some of his best football pictures from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. It’s more than a book of great football photos; it’s a book of great photos, full stop. The picture of Clark is included, of course. Iooss writes:

“Montana released the ball, I saw a receiver break towards me. Cradling the telephoto lens camera in my left arm, I grabbed the other camera hanging round my neck with my right hand, and focused and clicked just as Clark made the catch of his life.”

The book contains the kind of action pictures you expect – quarterbacks caught in the act of passing, receivers leaping to make a catch, defenders delivering brutal hits. There are photos of injured players, tired players, players marking time on the bench and celebrating on the field.

But Iooss captures much else too. The book opens with a selection of photos of kids playing football – some in organised games, with pads and helmets, and others just tossing a ball around in the park – and these are as good as any pictures at conveying the joy of sport. He trains his camera on the spectators too: the bizarre characters and the tense crowds.

Some photos are striking for how Iooss frames them; the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum photos taken from a helicopter, for example, or Cowboys kicker Rafael Septien running out into Texas Stadium to be swallowed by shadows. Others are like little time capsules, such as the one showing crowds heading into the Superdome in New Orleans. The stadium draws your attention at first, dominating the frame like an alien spacecraft that has set down amid a city, and then you notice the 70s cars filling the car parks and the 70s colours of the clothes, and you eye traces across the New Orleans skyline.

The photos in this book are almost all like that – full of tiny details that hint at numerous other stories.

The text in the book comes from Dan Jenkins, Iooss’s longtime Sports Illustrated colleague, and the author of classic football books such as the novel Semi-Tough. His contribution is great – insightful and funny. Even so, the photographs are the real draw.

Football is out of print, unfortunately. You can find it secondhand but you might have to search for a copy of this coffee table book that isn’t too battered and torn to look good on your coffee table. Seek it out, though.

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